the official website of
Bob Nailor




Write What You Know

Exactly what does this mean? Most writers, especially non-fiction writers, write their books explaining facts as they know and see them. For them, they are definitely writing what they know. For the non-fiction writer — those who write science fiction, romance, horror, adventure, ad nauseum, this become a muddy puddle. If they don’t know their “stuff” — they compose a poorly conceived story in which the reader loses interest because of flaws.

A simple example: A science fiction writer needs to know and understand the basics of science. One can only use techno-babble (this is the ability to describe the new and unusual) in limited quantities before the reader will glaze and close the book. Also, as stated, certain scientific facts must be adhered to such as on a planet with a red sun which emits red light - the green grass of Earth would appear black. If you don’t understand this concept, take a sheet of red cellophane paper and look through it. What we normally would see under our Earth sunlight would be totally different in the light of a red sun.

As my friend always stated when I would stumble and fall — gravity sucks. Gravity will pull you toward it and if you have two conflicting sources of gravity, the stronger will prevail. Consider our near neighbor, Mars, which has only about 38% the gravitational pull of Earth. You won’t float away but you’ll definitely have a different perspective. Edgar Rice Burroughs used this aspect for his character, John Carter, to jump great distances. If you were to place your character on Jupiter which has 2.5 times the gravitational pull of Earth, your character would barely be able to move.

Enough about science. What of detective tales? Unfortunately, we’ve been duped by Hollywood with its fancy movies and television shows. When you cut a vein or artery, the blood doesn’t necessarily gush into the air. The same holds true for those exciting knife punctures — the blood will “pump” onto the ground/pavement. Remember, when watching re-enactments or murder scenes on the “big screen” that it is usually a packet of animal blood or a chemical concoction which acts totally different. Think about when you cut yourself. Exactly how does the blood appear?

Plus, only in Hollywood can the bad guys be the crappiest shooters in the world. Your villain didn’t get to be the leader in the story by not being able to kill his opponents. Those protection goons should be be able to hit a fly on the wall with one shot. If not, personally speaking, I wouldn’t have them protecting me.

If you want to write what you know, you have to learn. I avoided writing sword scenes in my fantasy stories because I didn’t know how to handle a sword. Through fortunate events, I met a gentleman who does a sword fighting routine at different Renaissance festivals. He taught me how to use and handle a sword. Not only did I learn how to use it but also how the feel and heft of the blade handled. My sword fighting scenes now ring with a voice of authority. I also participated in a 2-day Civil War re-enactment to get a better understanding of life during that time period including camping and cooking as a regiment soldier. Trust me when I say a wool uniform in the summer time is not comfortable.

A writer informed me that she could get all the information she needed via the Internet. That medium is good as a resource but it can also be flawed data and I therefore suggest a wary eye. As the adage goes — Just because you found it on the Internet, doesn’t mean it’s true. A library, on the other hand, can be invaluable for details for your books - both fiction and non-fiction.

An adventure writer doesn’t necessarily need to visit every country for an international storyline. Again, careful Internet research, coupled with several library trips, will garner the details necessary for the tale. My novel, 2012: Timeline Apocalypse takes place in Palenque, the Yucatan, southern Mexico. I’ve never been there, BUT, I have been through the Panama Canal and to Acapulco, Mexico. The novel is about the Mayan calendar and the big hoopla about December 21, 2012. I did my research which included learning about the Mayan people and their lifestyle in about 600 AD. Some research was done via the Internet, while other data was gleaned from books borrowed from the local library. For the books that weren’t “in stock,” the librarians were kind enough to order. One reader informed me that he and his family visited the Mayan ruins after reading my book. As he stated, It was chilling to stand in some of the locations you described and visualize your book coming to life.

Fine. I’ve explained some of how “Write What You Know” works, but now, for an explanation of how to do this — easily.

Scenario: You’re a mother who has raised four children who have grown and left home. You now have several grandchildren visiting. You want to write a book about raising children.

First, you have no doctorate, no valid education of child-rearing. Second, who is going to read a book about raising children from Mrs. Joe Average? What is going to make them want your book?

You need to create the illusion of knowledge. Start writing your book AND, at the same time, create a blog, call it something catchy, such as Mother’s Wit vs Four Kids. Do a weekly blog revealing escapades of what and how you handled the crises while your children were growing up. Explain to other mothers (your target audience) the steps you took to either avoid a situation or maneuvered through the battle.

Do you have credentials? Of course you do! You raised four children and now have grandchildren. I was taught Grandchildren are God’s gift for not killing your own. So use your experience with your children and grandchildren. I’m sure there are enough escapades in your life to write several years’ worth of weekly blogs. As your readership increases, others will share their experiences which you can use and add to your blog. You write your book and your readership will buy it and with a little luck, word of mouth will create the momentum to large sales.

Ah, the question of “who will publish this book?” Simple. You can attempt to find an agent or publisher to handle all this for you OR you can publish it yourself. Just don’t go the vanity press route where you pay big dollars to get published. Use something like Create Space for paperbacks and Kindle for ebooks or consider a company like BZHercules.com to handle it for you — they aren't selling the books back to you like a vanity press would do.

By creating the blog and aggressively using it to establish your “credentials,” you are instilling an illusion of expertise, of knowledge.

People will take notice and you will be “Writing What You Know.”




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~ COMMENTS ~

Elyse Salpeter
2015-09-14
Ooooh, this is such a tricky post. I never write about what I know and man is that an issue. I avidly research the internet, talk to people, read travel blogs, but it's not always the perfect solution. If I write about Tibet I really should be there to smell it, feel it, understand the culture. I just can't afford to always go to these exotic places I write about, not to mention I explore mystical religions at times, religions I don't even practice, so I'm constantly researching! Sigh, oh to travel the world!
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Bob Nailor
2015-09-14
But I know you do severe research to make sure your story rings with authenticity. Yes, a trip to Tibet would be nice, but you still were able to give it that "I've been there" feel. Besides, do you really, really want to climb a mountain through all that snow to visit a monastery at the top?
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Onisha Ellis
2015-09-14
Local library book sales can be a good place to pick up research material and at dirt cheap prices. Rebekah and I were cruising the library sale and came upon Chronicle of the 20th Century. It is a hardback, a good 4 inches thick and the size of a coffee table book. It is perfect for creating a time line for her next novel. I think the price was one dollar.
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Bob Nailor
2015-09-14
Those are true treasures to find. I was able to find a couple of webpages which gave historical timeline events and I even found other sites to validate that data before I used it.
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Scott Bury
2015-09-14
I know I get completely turned off of a book when I can tell the author doesn't know the subject and is just shoveling out effluent and trying to say it's gold.
While I depend a lot on the Internet for research, I also use books, and personal interviews, too. When I started writing a novel set in Maui, Hawaii (Torn Roots), I quickly realized that I knew nothing about Hawaii. So my wife and I changed our vacation plans so that I could do on-the-spot research - which was invaluable in writing the story.
Write what you know, and if you don't know, learn.
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Bob Nailor
2015-09-14
Until one walks in a Hawaiian mist rain to truly experience the feeling, one just doesn't understand it. I remember my first day in Honolulu (US Navy) and the guys wanted to go into town but I'd heard it was suppose to rain. It did as we walked to the main gate, 5 minutes later, we were dry. It is little nuances like that which give flavor to a story. Plus there are other subtle things that just ring differently from an island to mainland. As you said, if the reader attempts to "blue sky" their way through, the book won't be read to the end... at least, not in my house!!
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Diane Rapp
2015-09-14
Again, you give us solid advice. My mystery series was set on cruise ships in the Caribbean since my daughter and I spent 4 months researching a travel guidebook in the Caribbean. My daughter worked as a purser on the ships, so I also gained knowledge through her.

I love watching documentaries about animals, once trained and groomed dogs, and have a deep love for animals. When I populate my distant planet with telepathic wolves, I use my experience with dogs to help me write realistic behaviors.

I also use "what ifs" in science: What if human clones were created in the future? What if scientists learned to transfer a mind into the patient's clone? What problems would this eventually create for those patients? Would repeated transfers cause the people to develop special talents? How would these characters interact with folks who rejected technology and live in a feudal society? As I answered those questions, my story evolved on the planet Drako. I call my work sci-fantasy because it is based on science but spins into fantasy--no magic just possibilities.

By using our own experiences to breathe life into scenery and characters, readers relate to our story. That's what we aim to achieve.
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Bob Nailor
2015-09-14
Your last 2 lines says it all. If not properly executed, a story can sound like a travelogue and be boring. It is that unique feel of having been there (or somewhere very similar) by the author that gives the story life.
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Rebekah Lyn
2015-09-14
Write what you know equals learn more. :-) I really want to write a great murder mystery or espionage thriller, but I don't yet have the contacts to thoroughly research these areas. One day though...
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Bob Nailor
2015-09-14
Find a local murder that's no longer being investigated, take the time to visit your local police and "interview" them to get the scoop. You'll be inside the precinct and be able to learn a little of the police side THEN go to the library and news office to investigate the murder case. Very easy gleaning info and then write your fictitious story ... or a twist on the one you investigated. Yup! Write what you know (or learn) and be on your way.
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